By Gene Wang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 26, 2010; D01
BALTIMORE -- It all began with such promise on Friday for the Washington Nationals. Their bats finally had sharpened after a recent downturn, and they staked themselves to what seemed a comfortable lead early against the lowly Baltimore Orioles before 43,484 at Camden Yards.
Then a night that featured four hits and a highlight-reel catch by center fielder Nyjer Morgan and Adam Dunn's four RBI unraveled because Washington's bullpen could not clean up a mess in the fifth and failed again miserably in the eighth, when the Orioles scored three times to tie.
But that drama was mere prelude to the bottom of the ninth, when the Nationals' fourth error -- this time a low throw from second baseman Cristian Guzm?n to first -- contributed to pinch-runner Jake Fox scoring and dealing Washington perhaps its most demoralizing loss this season, 7-6.
Although Matt Capps was on the mound for the decisive run, normally reliable setup man Tyler Clippard was largely to blame, allowing four runs, three of them earned, in 1 1/3 innings. Clippard's flawed stint contributed to a meltdown that underscored a disturbing trend lately of the Nationals (33-41) not being able to deliver a performance in which all phases execute effectively.
"I felt like I let us down in a big way tonight," said Clippard (8-4), whose sixth blown save included a two-run homer to pinch-hitter Scott Moore in the eighth followed by a single to Corey Patterson that allowed C?sar Izturis to score and tie the game at 6.
The Nationals lost for the eighth time in 10 games and, after their most recent homestand in which they scored 10 runs in six games, wasted one of their best days at the plate when they could not hold a 6-0 lead.
The loss considerably dampened what otherwise was a gratifying night for Morgan, who completed that homestand by going 4 of 20 with three walks, one steal and no runs in six games. That lack of production from the No. 1 spot tested Manager Jim Riggleman's patience, but he said just hours before the start of Friday's game that he had faith in his leadoff hitter.
Riggleman's conviction paid off handsomely as Morgan scored three runs, drove in another and stole his 16th base. His four hits in five at-bats also raised his average by 11 points to .255.
"We put ourselves on some situations where we didn't bury them," Morgan said, "and that's what really hurts out of that loss."
After one run in the first and two in the third, Washington built what seemed an insurmountable margin with a three-run fourth. The inning began innocuously enough with a one-out walk to Ian Desmond, who then stole second on the first pitch to the next batter, Morgan. That allowed Desmond to score on Morgan's double that bounced over the wall in left-center, giving the Nationals a 4-0 advantage.
It didn't seem as if there were more to come when Guzm?n popped up to third baseman Miguel Tejada in foul territory for the second out, but Ryan Zimmerman kept the inning going by beating a throw to first on a single deep in the hole at short to Izturis. Morgan advanced to third on the play, and he and Zimmerman both scored when Dunn belted a double down the first base line that stayed fair by inches for a 6-0 cushion that chased starter Jake Arrieta from the game.
Starter J.D. Martin (4 1/3 innings, three runs, none earned) twice pitchedout of tight spots, including holding the Orioles scoreless in the second after they loaded the bases with none out.
Martin, who has given up 10 earned runs in five starts but doesn't have a win, also got Luke Scott to fly out in the third with runners on first and second in an inning that featured Morgan's most acrobatic catch. With one out, Patterson stepped to the plate and drove Martin's 2-1 offering to deep center field. The ball appeared headed out of the park, but Morgan timed his jump perfectly and made the catch several feet above the wall, much to the surprise and dismay of the Orioles faithful.
Morgan also ran down a ball in deep left-center in the fifth off the bat of Tejada after the Orioles had loaded the bases with none out. Although Julio Lugo, who led off Baltimore's half of the inning by reaching on Desmond's throwing error, scored from third for the Orioles' first run, Morgan's effort kept damage to a minimum. Nick Markakis followed with single to short that brought in Izturis, and that was the end of the day for Martin.
Reliever Doug Slaten struck out Scott swinging for the only batter he would face. Following Scott's strikeout, Miguel Batista entered and allowed Patterson, who earlier had singled and moved to third on a Desmond throwing error, to score on an Adam Jones single before inducing Matt Wieters to ground to second to end the inning.
"You can't really put a finger on it," Desmond said of the stunning defeat. "We had 10 different ways to win that game, and we lost it 10 different ways."